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Secrets for a perfect stitch when hand quilting [Tips included]

by Claire Haillot

Hand quilting is a relaxing activity once you get the hang of it. I find that it’s another form of meditation, as when I’m hand quilting, I simply focus on my needlework and forget everything else. I strongly urge everyone to try it out by making a whole cloth pillow at first, concentrating on the needle motion and not so much on the stitch length.

In yesterday’s post, I showed you how to choose the perfect thimble for hand quilting as it’s the key element to your perfect stitches. But you’ll also need a quilting hoop, between needles, quilting threads and beeswax.

A hand with black nail polish holds a package of Clover Black Gold Between #9/12 needles, and a package of Heirloom Gold Eye Quilting needles between size 8

Between needles are designed for hand quilting.

Between needles

Quilting needles are called betweens and usually come in sizes 9 to 12. Nine being the longest needle size and twelve being the shortest. Clover Black Gold Between #9/12 is a great package to test out the various needle sizes. The Clover black gold needles have a special black plating on their surface that reduces friction by 30% for an effortless stitch through fabric and batting. They’re also polished along the axis and coated with ultra-thin black plating for anti-rust resistance.

If you’re a beginner, you’ll love the Heirloom Gold Eye Hand Quilting Needles – Size #8 as they’re the longest needles and are strong enough when learning the hand quilting movement. As you progress in the technique, you can move to shorter needles to help you get a smaller stitch.

You can use machine quilting thread for hand quilting, either 30 or 40 denier. I love the Sulky and Gütermann 100% natural cotton thread because they’re made with the finest, long-staple cotton and are strong with a silk-like lustre. I simply apply UNIQUE Beeswax in Holder to strengthen the thread and prevent it from twisting. When learning to hand quilt, choose a thread that contrasts with your fabric so you can see your work. As you get the hang of it, you can work with threads that blend well with your fabrics. Don’t forget to audition your threads by unravelling them and laying them down on the quilt top.

See how I prepare my 30wt Sulky thread for hand quilting in the video below.

Tips for a perfect hand quilting stitch

The trick for uniform stitches is all in the rocking motion of your needle to grab as many stitches as possible and then running the needle through the quilt.

First you need to keep your needle perpendicular to the fabric, letting the needle run through your three layers and just reaching the back of the quilt ever so slightly. The tip of your forefinger from the left hand (reverse if you’re left-handed) needs to feel the tip of the needle on the bottom of the quilt. It needs to push it upward if it’s too far out below. If your finger is starting to get sore, use your middle finger. This is where the ring thimble can come in handy.

Now, slant your needle to bring the tip of your needle back up on the top of the quilt. Your thumb can help bring it upward. Remember that the space between the needle going down and moving back up represents the stitch length on the back of the quilt.

Once the tip of the needle is back on the top, allow the needle to pull out for the length of the stitch you want on the top of the quilt. Adjust the length with your thumb. The thimble should never leave the top of the needle.

Position your needle back in the perpendicular position and repeat the steps once more. At first, you’ll be ecstatic to be able to make 2-3 stitches and pull through your needle. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to make 4-6 stitches before pulling your needle. This allows you to have straight uniform quilting lines.

A package of Heirloom Needle Grab’r

I couldn’t live without the Heirloom Needle Grab’r

What saves the day at this point is the Heirloom Needle Grab’r. The soft rubber pliable pad grips the needle and easily pulls it through my quilt. I couldn’t live without it. Here’s a video demonstrating the technique with all the little details that just can’t be put into words.

As you perfect your motion, you might find it’s easier with a smaller needle. This is where I urge you to try the needles in the Black Gold Between #9/12. Once you find the right needle size for you (I now use #10 needles) you can purchase that size only.

A UNIQUE traditional Metal thimble with Clover Black Gold Between needles sized #9-10-12

Clover Black Gold Between #9/12 is a great package to test out the various needle sizes.

Now all you have to do is find the right spot in your home for a relaxing moment of meditation through hand quilting. Remember that practice makes perfect and that Rome was not built in a day. Enjoy the process and the slow stitching.

This is part 4 of 5 in this series

Go back to part 3: 5 types of thimbles for hand quilting: Finding the perfect fit!

Go to part 5: Perfect cutting mats: Which ones work best for quilting AND why


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